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On August 12, 2004, about 0730 eastern daylight time, a float-equipped Cessna 172M, N12959, was destroyed when it impacted terrain and trees about 8 nautical miles northwest of Brownville Junction, Maine. The certificated airline transport pilot was fatally injured. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed for the flight, between Lucky Landing Marina and Seaplane Base (06B), Glenburn, Maine, and Lobster Lake, about 3 nautical miles east of North East Carry, Maine. The positioning flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
According to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector, the airplane was en route to Lobster Lake, about 65 nautical miles to the northwest of Glenburn, to pick up charter passengers.
The pilot's husband was also a float plane pilot, and a co-owner, along with the pilot, of the float plane company. According to the pilot's husband, he was originally scheduled to make the trip. On the morning of the accident, he woke up before she did, went downstairs, fixed coffee and checked the weather. He only saw the pilot 4-5 to minutes, and didn't speak much to her, except that she said she wanted to take the trip. The reason they didn't speak much related to a discussion they had had the previous evening.
The accident occurred during daylight hours, in the vicinity of 45 degrees, 25.48 minutes north latitude, 69 degrees, 12.87 minutes west longitude.
The pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate, with ratings for airplane single engine land, airplane multiengine land, and airplane single engine sea, and was a certificated flight instructor. She also held numerous type ratings, including B-757 and B-767, and was also employed by a major airline, serving as a first officer on trans-Atlantic DC-10 flights. In addition, she had flown float planes for about 20 years. On the pilot's application for an FAA second class medical certificate, dated August 14, 2003, she reported 14,500 hours of flight time.
The pilot's husband confirmed that she had been home from a trans-Atlantic trip for 4 days. She usually made two back-to-back trans-Atlantic trips, then had some time off. The pilot was usually "fine" the first day after a trip, but slowed on the second and third days, and sometimes felt "beat up" during those days. The third day was the day that it would really "catch up" with her, "not that bad, but by the end of the third day she'd start to wind down." On the morning of the accident, the pilot appeared to be "not overly tired," but was not "bright and chipper" either.
The pilot's husband also noted that she was the type of person who "didn't push it." He distinctly remembered thinking that she'd probably be back in 15-20 minutes after taking off [because of the weather], and was "surprised she got as far as she did."
Millinocket Municipal Airport (MLT), Millinocket, Maine, about 25 nautical miles northeast of the accident site, was at an elevation of 408 feet. Weather recorded there, at 0758, included variable winds at 6 knots, visibility 3 statute miles, mist, and an overcast ceiling 700 feet above the ground.
According to the pilot's husband, she did not check the weather that morning; however, he knew there was rain in the vicinity of Lobster Lake and advised her of it.
The pilot's husband also stated that there were really no good ways to check the weather along the flight route, except that he would typically call another operator in Millinocket. If that pilot was flying, the husband felt he could fly too. On the day of the accident, the other operator told the pilot's husband that the weather was "reasonable" at 0700-0730, but after 0800, it would probably deteriorate.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane's wreckage was located on August 13, 2004, on the southeastern side of Houston Mountain, about the 1,320-foot level. Two FAA inspectors and a representative of the airplane manufacturer conducted the on-scene examination.
The wreckage location was along an approximate straight line between Glenburn and Lobster Lake.
According to the lead FAA inspector, the wreckage path was about 200 feet in length, on rising terrain, heading 350 degrees magnetic. The airplane's right horizontal stabilizer was in a tree at the beginning of the wreckage path. Tree strikes continued, in 60- to 80-foot trees, in a relatively wings-level and nose-level attitude, then "dropped almost straight down."
The wreckage was highly fragmented. There was no evidence of any pre-impact anomalies to either the engine or the airframe. The flap actuator position was consistent with the flaps being up. Flight control continuity could not be confirmed due to the extent of damage. The cabin area, including the instrument panel, was destroyed by fire. The throttle control was forward, the carburetor heat was stowed, and the mixture control was out about 1.5 inches.
The engine sustained heat and fire damage. The propeller remained attached to the engine, and both propeller blades exhibited chordwise scratching, twisting, and S-bending.
MEDICAL AND TOXICOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was conducted on the pilot by the State of Maine, Office of Chief Medical Examiner, Augusta, Maine. Toxicological testing was subsequently performed at the FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
When asked what he thought might have contributed to the accident, the pilot's husband stated that the trip was fairly new for her; and she had been to the destination before, but only during really good weather. She wasn't that familiar with it, and was probably trying to follow GPS waypoints. She should've flown to the east of her route, over the Penobscot River, since the weather was better in that direction.
The pilot's husband also noted that he and his wife discussed, many times, how to determine if the visibility was sufficient, and, "I know she knew how to do it."
The area in which the accident occurred was a "gentle rising area." The technique for flying in such an area was to fly closer to the ground than the clouds, to and keep contact with the ground, but the pilot's husband thought she may have been flying closer to the base of the clouds, and didn't notice the rising terrain.